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Finding Generalization Measures by Contrasting Signal and Noise

Jiaye Teng · Bohang Zhang · Ruichen Li · Haowei He · Yequan Wang · Yan Tian · Yang Yuan

Exhibit Hall 1 #315
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Generalization is one of the most fundamental challenges in deep learning, aiming to predict model performances on unseen data. Empirically, such predictions usually rely on a validation set, while recent works showed that an unlabeled validation set also works. Without validation sets, it is extremely difficult to obtain non-vacuous generalization bounds, which leads to a weaker task of finding generalization measures that monotonically relate to generalization error. In this paper, we propose a new generalization measure REF Complexity (RElative Fitting degree between signal and noise), motivated by the intuition that a given model-algorithm pair may generalize well if it fits signal (e.g., true labels) fast while fitting noise (e.g., random labels) slowly. Empirically, REF Complexity monotonically relates to test accuracy in real-world datasets without accessing additional validation sets, achieving -0.988 correlation on CIFAR-10 and -0.960 correlation on CIFAR-100. We further theoretically verify the utility of REF Complexity under three different cases, including convex and smooth regimes with stochastic gradient descent, smooth regimes (not necessarily convex) with stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics, and linear regimes with gradient descent. The code is available at

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